A Woman’s Epilepsy Medication Turned Her Into a Compulsive Poet

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Introducing what appears to be the exact opposite of writer’s block: After starting a new medication for epilepsy, a 76-year-old woman was suddenly stricken with an unstoppable urge to write poetry, according to a case study in the journal Neurocase.

She’d never before been especially interested in poetry, but within a few months after she began taking the anti-seizure drug lamotrigine, the woman began pumping out 10 to 15 short poems each day. In addition to the sudden interest in poetry, she also developed “a more general fondness for wordplay, frequently using puns in speech, making humorous word associations, and identifying word patterns in everyday objects such as car license plates,” the study authors report. 

Epilepsy has been known to trigger what’s called hypergraphia on rare occasions, an overwhelming or compulsive urge to write. Researchers think that that’s because seizure activity in the right temporal lobe can disinhibit the left lobe, which is associated with language. But Vaughn Bell over at Mind Hacks points out that compulsive poetry writing is an especially peculiar case:

The difference in this case … is that hypergraphia often appears as meaningless, rambling or disorganised, and this particular patient produced competent, if not particularly high quality poems.

One of the most interesting implications of these cases is that rhyming, punning and poetic speech, which we normally think of as something that needs specific conscious effort and attention, can appear spontaneously to the point of overwhelming our normal forms of communication.

Six months after the poetry-writing urges began, however, the compulsion subsided — although something about the preoccupation seemed to stick, and she still wrote a poem every now and again. Via Mind Hacks, we’ll leave you with a sample of her work (which the woman’s husband called “doggerel”):

My poems roams
They has no homes
Yours’, also, tours,
And never moors.

Why tie them up to pier or quay?
Better far, share them with me.
Prose – now, that’s a different matter.
Rather more than just a natter.

Prose is earnest, prose is serious
Prose is lordly and imperious
Prose tells you, loud, clear, that
Life – life is dear.